I guess most of the people interested on this post will read it because of the so called Death Tunnel, so I’ll start from there.
Couple of facts:
- The Death Tunnel is aprox 5.6 km long. It can take more than 30 mins by car (it could be an hour easily), and probably the same time by bike.
- The biggest risk for a cyclist is a flat tyre. The road is in VERY bad conditions, with metal parts coming out of the asfalt in lots of places. Still, if you cycle slowly is easy to avoid them.
- There’s almost no risk of a car running over you (if you are properly lit) since they drive very slowly in the tunnel. It’s almost impossible for a car to go fast in there.
- You need a good front light. Honest. A small one is not enough since you need to see where your wheels are going properly. Some small light in the back and some reflectant to be seen should be enough, but front light needs to be as bright as possible. Assume there is no light in the tunnel AT ALL (except for a few bulbs that seem like a joke).
- The lack of ventilation is NOT a problem, or it wasn’t for me at least. Actually, climbing to the tunnel was a problem due to polution (I’ll write some more later on), but not in the tunnel. Obviously, the smoke from trucks is not nice, but chances are you’ll cycle faster than trucks very often. There were (surprisingly) few trucks.
Yes, there are roadworks inside.
- No, I found no guard at the entry (somebody told me there were guards, and that they might stop you from cycling through). I found workers and they all were “happy” to see me.
- Yes, there is water inside. Quite a lot, actually. Most of the time is ok, just a little bit of water over the surface or stucked in some hole in the path. But sometimes it can be relatively deep (half wheel), and when you think you’ve reached the bottom, it happens to be a hole underwater so it’s a little bit deeper. It makes cycling unconfortable for a second, but it’s not a big deal; no worries, no water to your belly nor anything like that.
- There is no way of avoiding the tunnel. No alternative route. I saw a hiking trail that goes over the mountain, but no way of cycling that (not even with a mountain bike without saddlebags).
- It is NOT true that they stop the traffic in one direction for an hour, and then the same in the other direction. At least they didn’t do that to me. They did that once i was inside the tunnel, but the maximum time I had to wait was less than 5 minutes.
- I didn’t understand what happen with the trucks. There were millions of trucks going towards the tunnel, and then lots of them stopped at the entry. Some went through the tunnel, but just a few compared to how many I found on previous kilometers. I didn’t get it, really. I saw some drivers passing their load to another truck, but still… Weird.
- Having said all this, I DEFINITIVELY recommend you to cycle through the tunnel. Quite an experience. But it’s not as bad/difficult as some people might try to tell you. I wouldn’t call it “Death Tunnel” since it’s much more likely to suffer accidents on some other tunnels properly built but were cars and trucks drive with no care.
- Also, you’ll hear lots of complains from locals. Seem like this tunnel, originally constructed by Russians, was offered to different countries for its reparation. Iran won the contract, put up couple of lights and there you go. Next tunnel, built/renewed by the Chinese, seems from a different planet. You’ll hear the expression “Iranians are ripping us off” quite very often!!
Now, the rest of the day.
The road before the tunnel can be split into the road until the last toll, which was uphill but smooth, through a canyon that got nicer and nicer and with almost no shop/restaurant (and obviously no town at all); and the kilometers after this last toll. These ones were really hard for me, very steep (the slope goes from 6% to 9%).
But what made them really difficult was the pollution from trucks. Honest, it was almost unbearable for me very often. I had to stop to cover my nose or to try to breath properly. That made the road shit. Without that it’d had been a perfectly nice cycling day.
If you have a map saying the top is at 3200m, it’s wrong. That would’ve been before the tunnel, I guess. By the way, no shop after this last toll until the tunnel is passed.
After the tunnel the road goes downhill and it’s very spectacular. Some small (and surprisingly poor!) towns (first time I see anything like that in Tajikistan) gave way to some mines and then to an impressive downhill (10%). After that, the road keeps going through a colourful canyon until Ayni, where you reach the bottom and have to start climbing again without a rest. There’s some accomodation in Ayni, and also some 3 kms after the exact point where I camped (look at the map).
Anyway, my camping space was great!!! The only bad thing it had was that I’d have to climb from the very first second next morning (you can see it from Ayni and it’s not very encouraging really!)… but those were another day’s stories.